When I was seventeen, my group of close friends evolved a game that we called Hotel-Lunking. Lunking was taken from spelunking. You can probably guess where Hotel came from.

We were avid gamers: board games, computer games, role-playing games, informal sports, whatever we were doing it was bound to involve some kind of a game. Paul was a year older than me and the rest of them were 1-3 years younger. In many ways I was the central figure in the group (until a couple years later when we’d fractured into three mutually hostile groups, but this was before that). Paul and I had cars and we were as often as not in mine -- I had no fear and that suited the others better than letting Paul drive responsibly.

One Saturday in the early autumn of 1987, after whiling the day away trying to convert a computer game to a board game, we decided to go downtown. Many of us lived in Webster Groves, Missouri at the time and downtown was even more alluring than the airport. St. Louis was a dark and foreboding place to my suburban friends (I went to school in “The City” for several years and was the only one who knew my way around) and always good for some fun.

We ended up at The Clarion across the street from Busch Stadium. Archon, a local SF convention had been held there once a few years before, and some of us had been and wanted to play in the big weird building. We walked in and no one stopped us. That was our first surprise for the night. We wandered around the places where the public normally goes for a while and grew restless. We ended up going to the lowest level that the elevators would reach to see if we could crash a conference. But nothing was going on. We’d been discussing getting thrown out, when Mike suddenly grabs the handle to a door liberally plastered with death threats and high-voltage indicators and disappears to the left.

We all stopped and shared a knowing glance. Then I gave a shrug and followed the white rabbit into wonderland. Everyone else had to follow. It was so cool! There were giant pieces of equipment with unfathomable functions humming loudly. There were stilled generators and giant boilers. We walked through cinderblock tunnels that were only four feet high and across vast expanses of rusting grill over a strange industrial tableau.

Did I mention it was cool?

Someone found an access panel that lead into a concrete hallway behind the kitchens which were mostly empty. We played in the kitchens. We talked about delivering room service as a joke. When we were in the service room for the swimming pool, Steve picked up a five gallon bucket of muriatic acid and joked “whoever ends the night with the coolest thing wins.” He didn’t actually try to lug the damn bucket around the hotel, but a new game of mayhem was born.

That first night, I won. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but we were stealing. First, I took a box of 200 thumbtacks from the office of the catering manager -- why the hell was her office open? That’s not too cool, but it was a start. Josh grabbed a meal bound for someone’s room off a cart (fish, I think). That was cool, so I had to do better.

On some floor of the hotel we found an area devoted to business suites. It was deserted on that Saturday night, so I just tried all the doors and one was oddly unlocked. The newly found portal, lead us into a room with a conference table and about eight or ten seats and a (sadly empty) bar. There were portable computers, brief cases, and knick-knacks. There were also doors to two adjacent rooms. After poking through other peoples’ private stuff for a while, we heard talking through one of the doors and realized that we were not being very careful.

We chose the other door.

And found a hotel room. Two beds, suits, shoes, toiletries, some opened junk food, half a can of Coors (what kind of asshole drinks Coors just up the river from the Anheuser-Busch headquarters?), and other miscellany of modern business life. I took a suit. I shouldn’t have. Even at the time I thought that stealing was wrong -- more so than I do now, to be honest. But I wanted to win and I did.

We left. Right through the front doors to the parking garage across the street. Into the car, out onto I-64/US-40 and back to the ‘burbs. We were never accosted by hotel staff. We were never kicked out. We were never arrested. We laughed at it all and codified the game to include the requirement that we be thrown out for it to count. It was a good rule.

In the future, as we played several more time, it prevented us from stealing anything really big and valuable. No more business suits. No more platters of food. Just stuff we could get in our pockets. And it lead us into most of the big hotels in the Metro St. Louis area to explore the crazy quilt of infrastructure that most people never see. We also played it at the airport.

I wonder if everything is now on camera? Can kids still do this? And is it a good thing?

It was good for us, but what about that poor bastard whose suit we just donated to the Goodwill? Sorry, dude.